City Marijuana Ordinance Courted

  City Marijuana Ordinance Courted

Posted by CN Staff on August 24, 2005 at 11:04:04 PT
By Eric Weslander 
Source: Lawrence Journal-World  

Lawrence, Kansas -- If a newly formed group gets its way, marijuana will become a low priority for Lawrence police. Getting busted for pot would be similar to getting a speeding ticket. And, marijuana-possession cases would be resolved in a streamlined fashion in city court.The changes, which are supported by the city’s mayor, have been proposed by a group called the Drug Policy Forum of Kansas, which formed in May and has an office at 941 Ky.
Last week, the group’s executive director, Laura Green, wrote a letter to city commissioners asking them to consider writing a marijuana and drug paraphernalia ordinance into the city code. The commission is expected to discuss the issue at its Sept. 6 meeting.“We’re not proposing legalization,” the 44-year-old Green said Tuesday. “I’m just asking them to consider making it part of the city code. ... Part of what I’m asking them to do is to make possession of marijuana a low priority. Don’t seek it out. Don’t go looking for it as if it’s the Holy Grail.”Fewer Pot Arrests?Unlike other Kansas cities — including Wichita, Topeka and Olathe — Lawrence has no city ordinances covering marijuana. That means the cases must be handled in District Court instead of the more informal, streamlined city court.In Green’s view, cases involving small amounts of marijuana and drug paraphernalia should be handled with a citation and notice to appear in city court, not an arrest. Penalties in city court would be similar to those already being handed down in District Court, she said: a combination of diversion, treatment, probation and a maximum fine of $2,500 or a year in jail.Cases involving second-time possession — a felony under Kansas law — would still be handled in District Court.Green argues the change would save state tax dollars required to investigate and prosecute marijuana cases in District Court.“We have so many hands out at the state budget level that we have to be very careful about where we put those resources,” she said.And, Green said, shifting the prosecutions to city court would keep students from being disqualified for federal financial aid under the terms of a 1998 federal law.“I don’t want to see a young person denied the opportunity to go to college because they made a mistake,” she said.D.A., Mayor SupportiveDist. Atty. Charles Branson, whose office now handles all marijuana cases in Douglas County, said he’s not in a position to tell police what their priorities should be. But he likes the idea of sending marijuana-possession cases to city court.“The District Court system is here, in my opinion, for more serious cases,” he said. “There’s a lot of savings, I think, in being able to have a city court be able to do these things.”No detailed figures were available Tuesday, but Branson estimated the move would reduce his caseload by two or three cases per week.Mayor Boog Highberger said he was generally supportive of Green’s ideas, in large part because of the issues involving student financial aid.Under the 1998 Higher Education Act, Green said, students are disqualified for financial aid if they have a drug conviction in state or federal court. According to Green’s figures, more than 160,500 students nationwide have been found ineligible for financial aid because of the law.But Green and others said the law doesn’t apply to convictions in municipal court“It wouldn’t bar a student from getting financial aid,” Highberger said. “That’s appropriate because I think that would be a pretty harsh penalty for getting caught with a little pot.”When told that KU officials had previously said that it seemed very few of their students were affected by the law, Highberger said: “How do they really know? How many students aren’t applying at all because they know they won’t get anything?”‘It is a Crime’Highberger also said he supports the idea of making it a lower enforcement priority for police.“I don’t think vigorously prosecuting people for small amounts of marijuana is a very good use of our limited resources,” he said.Highberger stressed that he only was talking about cases involving small amounts of marijuana for personal use, not cases involving drug dealers.Commissioner Mike Amyx said he wasn’t sure whether he supported the changes and was awaiting more information and input from other leaders. Amyx said he wouldn’t consider anything that would lessen penalties for marijuana use.“I would never think of doing that,” he said.Amyx also said he didn’t support making marijuana less of an enforcement priority.“I don’t think those are my feelings at all. It is a crime, and that is what we do. We carry out laws. ... It is not something where you pass a law and then just wink at it,” he said.Simpler ApproachGreen said the Drug Policy Forum of Kansas was filing its official papers to become a nonprofit corporation. Green and attorney Bob Eye are co-founders of the group.The effort to draft a city law comes on the heels of a similar, successful ballot initiative in Columbia, Mo. The city prosecutor in Columbia began a practice of deferring prosecution on first-time marijuana offenses. If the person stays out of trouble for a year, the case never is filed.Lawrence City Prosecutor Jerry Little said handling the cases in city court would simplify things. For example, in District Court, prosecutors routinely request $400 lab tests from the state to verify a suspect substance is marijuana. In city court, Little said, prosecutors likely would skip that step unless there’s a dispute about what the substance is.But Little said there are still unresolved questions about how a marijuana ordinance would work, such as what amounts of the drug would be considered for “personal use” instead of for sale.Note: Group seeking municipal, not state, prosecution of offenses.Staff writer Chad Lawhorn contributed information to this article.Source: Lawrence Journal-World (KS)Author: Eric Weslander, Journal-World Published: Wednesday, August 24, 2005Copyright: 2005 The Lawrence Journal-WorldWebsite: Related Article & Web Site:Drug Policy Forum Of Kansas Pushes To Ease Restrictions on Marijuana

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Comment #7 posted by FoM on November 09, 2005 at 08:12:51 PT
Vote Results from The Lawrence Journal-World
Marijuana Possession Fine Still Not Defined***Commissioners can’t agree on minimum penaltyWednesday, November 9, 2005Getting caught with marijuana in Lawrence should have consequences, but city commissioners Tuesday night weren’t able to lift the haze about how steep they should be.Commissioners came within one vote of imposing a $300 minimum fine for a proposed ordinance that would allow people charged with first time marijuana possession to be tried in Municipal Court.Commissioners Sue Hack and Mike Amyx strongly lobbied for the change. Commissioner David Schauner said he could support it also as long as the judge had the ability to reduce the fine if specific mitigating circumstances were found.“We have a minimum fine for stormwater violations of $250, so I think a $300 minimum fine for marijuana possession is reasonable,” Hack said. “I have spent an awful lot of time with young people, and I just can’t condone minimizing the possession of an illegal substance.”But Schauner couldn’t offer specific language on what those mitigating circumstances should be, and Amyx and Hack said they couldn’t support the compromise until they saw more specifics. Staff members are scheduled to bring back specific language at the commission’s Nov. 29 meeting.Mayor Boog Highberger didn’t support a $300 minimum and Commissioner Mike Rundle said he would want the judge to have broad ability to deviate from the $300 minimum. Both said they believed the judge should be able to fully consider the circumstances of the case when handing out a fine.The state law, which is used for all marijuana cases in Douglas County District Court, does not impose a minimum fine. Laura Green, executive director of the Lawrence-based Kansas Drug Policy Forum, proposed the new city ordinance because she argues that since Municipal Court cases generally move quicker than District Court cases, it will allow police officers and prosecutors to be more efficient. Municipal Court convictions also do not trigger a federal provision that can stop some students from receiving financial aid.But the thought of a $300 minimum fine has her concerned.“Marijuana possession doesn’t affect another person or another person’s property or the environment,” Green said. “I believe $300 is outrageous when you consider the minimum fine for a first-time DUI (driving under the influence) is only $500. The relative harm to society for a little bit of marijuana is just not $300.”Commissioners were given information about several other Lawrence ordinances that impose minimum fines. They included $50 for a noise ordinance violation, $100 for a fire code violation and $300 for a minor in possession of alcohol violation.But commissioners also were given information that 32 of the 50 largest cities in the state have an ordinance that allows first-time marijuana possession cases to be tried in Municipal Court. Of those 32 communities, only three — Overland Park, Olathe and Garden City — impose minimum fines.“Topeka does not have a minimum fine, and I don’t think Topeka has become a hotbed of drug use,” Mayor Boog Highberger said.The Lawrence ordinance does adopt the maximum state fine, which is $2,500. State law does not allow cities to lower a maximum fine.Kasold Drive design changes againA design to rebuild Kasold Drive between 22nd Street and Bob Billings Parkway has changed again.City Commissioner Mike Rundle said he had changed his mind since a previous meeting last month when he broke a 2-2 tie and voted for a compromise design that was an attempt to minimize the road’s effect on residents who live along the road.But the compromise involved reducing the sidewalk from eight feet to six feet. Rundle said that after further thought, he decided the wider sidewalk was too important to lose.Neighbors urged commissioners to stick to their previous vote. Several said they now would force the city to purchase construction easements in order to put equipment and people on their property to build the road. Price Banks, who is a neighbor and an attorney, told commissioners it could cost upwards of $100,000 to purchase all the easements from the necessary property owners.Commissioners Sue Hack and Mike Amyx voted against changing the plans.Neighborhood building permit moratoriums extendedCity commissioners unanimously agreed to extend a building permit moratorium in the Hillcrest Oread and Pinckney neighborhoods until Feb. 1.The moratorium is in place to give city planners time to complete several rezonings of property. The rezonings are being sought because they have zonings that allow a higher use than currently is found at the site. For example, many of the rezonings seek to change the zoning on single family homes that are currently zoned for duplex or apartment uses.Commissioners did agree to allow a duplex project proposed for 500 Florida Street to apply for a building permit. Commissioners said that they wanted the moratorium to essentially only apply to the handful of properties that are undergoing rezoning, rather than the entire area.Learnard Avenue development approvedCommissioners unanimously approved a five-lot, single family development for 1801 Learnard Ave., even though Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commissioners had recommended denial.Commissioners said the project proposed by Lawrence resident Steve Standing fit in well with the unique “rural-like” setting of Learnard Avenue, even though it was not a typical city development.Standing is proposing to build houses on lots of about a half-acre each.Wastewater Master Plan contract approvedCommissioners unanimously approved a contract with Black & Veatch engineering for $80,500 to update the city’s 2003 Wastewater Master Plan.The study is designed to examine the northwest area and determine the impacts of growth on the city’s sewer system. The study is part of a plan put forward by city staff members to determine whether additional improvements are needed to the area’s sewer system before final approval can be given to proposed developments in the northwest area of the city.Copyright: 2005 The Lawrence Journal-World
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Comment #6 posted by runderwo on August 25, 2005 at 08:13:07 PT
The caption on that Hempfest picture says it's from 2004. Is that correct?
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Comment #5 posted by OverwhelmSam on August 24, 2005 at 18:22:04 PT
City By City State By State De Facto Legalization
One state at a time until we toke up and laugh the cruel cannabis prohibitionists out of the US Congress.Mayor Boog Highberger? LOL
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Comment #4 posted by mayan on August 24, 2005 at 18:19:32 PT
Off Topic
Bush has hit his lowest point in the polls and it looks like he'll keep sinking lower. Notice how his numbers went up after 9/11 and the start of the Iraq war... Bush Approval: Raw Poll Data:
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Comment #3 posted by VitaminT on August 24, 2005 at 17:23:27 PT
Nice Hempfest photo on Yahoo!'s my new wallpaper
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on August 24, 2005 at 15:06:09 PT
Slate: Should I Move to Amsterdam?
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on August 24, 2005 at 11:09:00 PT

What Is The Actual Penalty?
I think that Ohio has one of the better laws on possession ( almost a quarter pound is a $100 fine and only a citation ) and why don't they see that it has worked since the 70s and try it?
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